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Bulldogs fall to 7-2 in league standings, remain in contention for first league title since 2008

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn junior Jonathan Marroquin added 10 points in the victory over the Outlaws, as the Bulldogs featured 11 players who scored at least a point in the contest.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn junior Jeovanny Marroquin finished with a game-high 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the Bulldogs 54-26 win over Sisters on Feb. 11.With three games left in the regular season, the next week of games will have an incredible impact on how and where the Woodburn boys basketball team enters the postseason.

After splitting a pair of league games last week against Sisters and Stayton, the No. 4 Bulldogs (15-5, 7-2 Oregon West) could win its first league title in more than a decade — or they could fall as far as third or fourth in the conference standings and face an uphill battle on their road back to the state quarterfinals.

"One of our goals is can we put ourselves in a spot to have a chance at a league title, and we're close," head coach Raul Veliz said. "We've got to get through these next couple of games, and it might come down to this next week."

Woodburn currently sits in second place in the conference standings, falling out of the top spot after suffering a 55-44 loss at Stayton (13-8, 5-5) on Friday. The Bulldogs had held a slight edge for first place after beating the Sisters Outlaws (2-20, 0-10) 55-26 on Tuesday, Feb. 11. However, the loss to the Eagles proved how tenuous a lead can be in an Oregon West Conference that boasts five teams ranked in the top 11 and no safe places remaining now that the Bulldogs have swept the Outlaws.

"You can go from (first) to (third) in about a couple of games," Veliz said. "That's what's scary about it, but it's fun. Two or three possessions in a lot of games can make a lot of scores look different, can make a lot of records different."

"It's going to be tough," the Woodburn coach continued. "Every day, regardless of whether we get the win or we don't, are we getting better? Are we playing better and continuing to put ourselves in a good spot? If we do that, if we play our best and put ourselves in a good spot — games are going to be close — so let's at least put ourselves in that position to have a chance."

The Bulldogs did as much in their opening game of the week against the Outlaws. While Sisters has been suffering a down season after making the state play-in game last week, Veliz wanted to make sure his players kept the defensive up, even against a struggling opponent.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior Georgio Bustamante goes up for a lay-in against Sisters. Bustamante is one of eight seniors who will be recognized on Tuesdays Senior Night game against Newport.They responded with their best defensive game of the season, holding Sisters under 10 points in every quarter, giving up a season-low in points.

"That's our bread and butter," junior wing Jeovanny Marroquin said. "We start off with defense every day in practice. We work on it for an hour and a half, so that's what we do. We're a defensive team, and when we play defense, that's how we get our offense."

Marroquin led the offensive charge in the opening quarter, scoring eight of the Bulldogs 21 points in the period to give Woodburn a 21-8 advantage heading into the second quarter. Marroquin finished with a game-high 15 points, while teammate Jonathan Marroquin had 10, and 11 players managed to score at least a point in the victory.

It was the Bulldogs' third consecutive victory since beating the Philomath Warriors at the end of January. In all three games in that span, Woodburn has been remarkably consistent on offense, scoring 55, 55, and 54 points, respectively.

"Ever since Philomath, our team has kicked in, and we realize how good we are as a unit," Marroquin said. "We've been playing really well since that Philomath game."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn junior Jose Lua drains a corner-3 in the third quarter, one of six 3-pointers the Bulldogs hit against the Sisters Outlaws.But Friday's loss at Stayton proved how quickly things can turn in the Oregon West. With the loss, Woodburn dropped out of first place and must win its remaining three league games to guarantee the team's first league title since 2008.

The Bulldogs begin their stretch with its final home game of the regular season, hosting Newport (8-13, 3-6) for senior night on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Although the Cubs are currently sixth in the league standings, they are coming off a 76-60 win over No. 10 Cascade (16-5, 6-3) and took Philomath to the wire earlier in the season.

"This is going to be the tough stretch right here," Veliz said.

Woodburn finishes their league schedule with a pair of road games against top-10 teams, traveling to Cascade on Friday, Feb. 21, and finishing at Philomath on Feb. 25.

The Bulldogs can secure an automatic bye to the round of 16 if they finish in the top two of the league standings. Any lower and they'll be forced to compete in a play-in game to make it to the state bracket. The next three games will determine the team's fate, one way or another.

"We've just got to come out and play hard," Marroquin said. "We've got to win every game, get that guaranteed spot."

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